NFL player representatives are scheduled to vote by mid-October on whether to retain DeMaurice Smith as the union’s executive director and bar other candidates from challenging him for the job, under a new set of election procedures not previously disclosed publicly.
The voting rules, outlined in a set of documents obtained by The Washington Post, establish what amounts to a referendum this fall on Smith retaining the job he has held since 2009. The procedures put the decision of whether to sign Smith to a contract extension in the hands of a 14-member selection committee and the board of team-by-team player representatives. If those players opt to keep Smith, the union would not consider other candidates for the executive director job.
The union’s previous procedure for electing an executive director placed few restrictions on candidates entering the race, allowing for the possibility of a crowded field of challengers heading into a March vote.
The players’ vote on Smith is to take place by Oct. 15, under the new election procedures. Smith’s current three-year term is to end in March.
Attorney Cyrus Mehri, who was instrumental in the NFL’s adoption of its minority interviewing rule in the hiring processes for coaches and key front office executives, has announced his intention to challenge Smith for the executive director job.
Mehri was critical of the new voting procedures, saying he views them as an attempt to keep the current leadership structure in place.
“De Smith has given the vast majority of NFL players and the public at large the false impression that the election is in March of 2018,” Mehri said, using Smith’s popular nickname. “Meanwhile, he devised a scheme with a virtually secret and unobtainable constitution to prevent any election at all.”
At least one other candidate, a former NFL player, had planned to challenge Smith in March. But the former player’s candidacy is uncertain now because of the new election procedures, according to multiple people familiar with the deliberations.
The NFL Players Association said the election procedures were voted on and implemented by the board of player reps but declined to further comment through a spokesman. The voting rules were put in place after Smith was reelected in 2015 to a three-year term. He was opposed by eight challengers at that election.
NFLPA leaders have told others in and around the sport that the new rules are designed to restore order to what had become a disorderly process and to prevent unqualified candidates from running for executive director. But Smith’s detractors say that, in their view, the procedures are designed to keep him in the job without facing opposition.
“It is ironic in a league where players have to compete every single day that De Smith is afraid of competition,” Mehri said. “NFL players deserve better.”
The NFLPA said after the 2015 election that it was forming a committee to study and modify its election procedures to avoid a similar outcome. But the results of that overhaul of the voting rules were not publicized.
Smith has said publicly he intends to remain in the job. He told ESPN Radio last week that he welcomes challengers.
“We have a process, and I think that if there’s someone out there, like there has been before, who wants to run for the job, that’s fine,” Smith said during the radio interview. “I wake up every morning knowing what my job has to be, and look forward to it every morning.”
Under the new voting procedures, according to the set of documents obtained by The Post, the union established a 14-member executive director selection committee. It consists of the union’s president, Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Eric Winston, plus its treasurer, nine executive committee vice presidents and its three longest-tenured player representatives.
The procedures say Smith is to hold an evaluation meeting by Sept. 15 to submit a progress report on his goals and accomplishments and review that report with the selection committee. Within two weeks of the evaluation meeting, he is to officially inform the selection committee whether he wants to continue as executive director following the completion of his current term.
Assuming Smith informs the selection committee he wants to stay, the selection committee is to vote by Oct. 15 whether to re-sign Smith to a contract extension for another term or open the position for an election. The vote can be conducted in person, by phone or via ballot.
If all 14 members of the selection committee vote to keep Smith, he is retained and the players’ ruling executive committee negotiates a new contract with him. If seven to 13 members of the selection committee vote to retain Smith, the issue is put to the board of player representatives. If at least two-thirds of the player reps vote to keep Smith, he is retained and the executive committee negotiates a new contract with him.
If six or fewer members of the selection committee vote to retain Smith, the executive director job is declared open. That also results if the vote goes to the player reps and Smith fails to gain two-thirds ratification from them. In that case, the selection committee is empowered to conduct a search and identify two to four candidates. Mehri would not necessarily have to be among the candidates chosen by the players.
The player reps, meeting in March, would elect a new executive director via a majority vote, and the winner would be signed to a contract of three to five years, under the election procedures.
The election procedures are applicable whenever an executive director’s contract is about to expire.
Smith has served a trio of three-year terms. He was reelected in 2012 and 2015. In 2015, other candidates included former NFL players Sean Gilbert, Robert Griffith, Jason Belser and John Stufflebeem; attorneys Andrew Smith, James Acho and Arthur McAfee; and sports and entertainment agent Rob London.
Mehri announced his candidacy last week. He was critical of the deal that Smith struck with the league in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, and said that Smith has been overzealous and unsuccessful in challenging the league in court.
The new election procedures could prevent Mehri from challenging Smith, however, if the players decide this fall they want to stick with Smith or if they throw open the election process but do not identify Mehri as a candidate.
“We will not let him get away with this,” Mehri said. “Players deserve choices. We are going to fight every day to advance player voices and choices.
“To be the [executive director] of the NFLPA is a privilege that should be earned every three years in broad daylight. The stakes are too high to deprive NFL players of an opportunity to evaluate the candidates after a full debate.”
A person familiar with the league’s inner workings said recently NFL officials had been frustrated because Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted to move forward with Smith and the union on negotiations for an extension of the CBA, which runs through 2020. But the union was biding its time, in the league’s view, because of something related to Smith’s contract, that person said. A person familiar with the union’s inner workings dismissed that characterization at the time, saying Smith was authorized to proceed in negotiations whenever and however he and the union see fit.
Goodell has two years remaining on his current contract and, according to a person familiar with the deliberations, is applying the finishing touches with the owners to a five-year contract extension through 2024.
Smith has said he expects there to be a work stoppage, either a strike by the players or a lockout by the owners, in 2021. The owners locked out the players before the 2011 labor deal.
The system of player discipline and Goodell’s role in it could be a significant issue in these CBA negotiations. The length and structure of the season could be another topic of bargaining. Goodell again is talking about the possibility of shortening the preseason. The league has not said whether it would seek something, such as a longer regular season or an expended postseason, in conjunction with that.
The league also has asked the union whether it wants to conduct mutual research into the potential use of marijuana as a pain-management tool for players. The union has been researching that issue on its own.
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